Brussels, 12 Apr 2004
A new EU funded project was launched at the human genome meeting in Berlin, Germany, this week, with the goal of developing new drug treatments for depression by studying the genetic factors underlying the disease.
NEWMOOD is a new Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) Integrated Project involving 13 laboratories across Europe, including three from new Member States Estonia, Hungary and Poland. The project will receive 7.3 million euro funding under the life sciences, genomics and biotechnology for health priority of FP6 over the next five years.
The NEWMOOD partners will look for genes that affect depression in mouse and rat models, as well as in humans. This in turn should provide new targets for drugs, aid diagnosis and improve human understanding of the causes of depression.
Project coordinator Professor Bill Deakin from the University of Manchester, UK, said: 'Antidepressant drugs haven't changed much for the past 30 years. We have to find new molecules that are involved in depression so that new treatments can be found.'
Currently, most antidepressants work by boosting levels of serotonin in the brain, a chemical that allows nerve cells in the brain to communicate with one another. However, such treatments can take weeks to have an effect and only work in around half of patients.
During the NEWMOOD project, researchers will construct a microchip carrying 800 genes that they think may be related to depression, including those governing metabolism, growth and cell communication. The chip will be used to identify which of these genes are active in healthy and depressed animals and humans.
Armed with the results, the partners will then test the effects of these depression-related genes by altering their activity in genetically modified mice. 'We've no idea what these molecules are going to be,' added Professor Deakin, 'but we expect to find a whole cascade of genes.'
If the project turns out to be a success, as the partners hope it will, NEWMOOD could have a major impact on the lives of the 120 million people worldwide that are believed to suffer from depression.